SCOTT JOPLIN by James with Kathleen Benson Haskins


Email this review


There isn't enough known of the Ragtime King's life to justify a full-scale biography, but Haskins has tracked down most of the available data, and, by filling in with ""educated conjectures"" and disproportionately long stretches of socio-cultural background, has managed to produce a slim, dull, respectable volume. A few recurring drifts do emerge from the chronological piecing together of Joplin's restless progress from youth in Texarkana to itinerant piano-playing in the Midwest's sporting districts to off-and-on celebrity in Chicago, Sedalia (Mo.), St. Louis, and New York: yearnings to establish ragtime's serious musical credibility; idealistic conflicts with his publisher's commercialism and his colleagues' taste for razzledazzle. But if there was a complex or self-destructive personality behind Joplin's erratic creativity or early death from syphilis, there's no trace of it in the nondimensional figure here. Nor does Haskins bring much zest or insight to his rag by-rag analyses (weakest is his discussion of the opera Treemonisha), but each work is given its history and place, and the rough outlining of an overall development through the rags seems reasonable. In the end, despite the numbing profusion of ""probablys"" in Haskins' footnoted arrangement of biographical evidence, one feels fairly confident that nearly all the facts are indeed here (including the naming of Joplin's hitherto unidentified German music teacher)--even if they haven't been transformed into anything particularly enlightening or engaging.

Pub Date: May 26th, 1978
Publisher: Doubleday